Max Verstappen has beaten Lewis Hamilton by eight seconds to win the sprint at the United States Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver converted pole into victory building a nine-tenth lead from the opening lap, while Hamilton tried to pass the Red Bull into Turn One after the Mercedes driver made a lighting start from fourth to pass both Ferrari’s up the hill and back down.
The world champion robustly defended the lead from Leclerc’s Ferrari off the line and held off a brief threat from Hamilton in the early laps before cruising into the distance. Hamilton’s pace may give him the advantage over Verstappen in the Grand Prix after the Dutchman could only manage sixth in qualifying, after having a pole position lap deleted for exceeding track limits but said on Friday that his lower starting position might make the race more fun.
Verstappen’s only fear that the drivability issue that impacted his sprint qualifying performance was then put down to sliding in the wind by Red Bull. His performance suggests he will be the favourite in the Grand Prix. Mercedes looks to have the advantage over Ferrari going into the Grand Prix.
Verstappen’s lead over Perez in the drivers standings grows to two hundred and thirteen points, while he will have the opportunity to equal his 2022 record of fifteen victories in a season on Sunday, along with likely breaking the points total he set last year.
Charles Leclerc was third eight seconds behind the Mercedes, the question going into the race was how close Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren could into the race on Sunday. Verstappen’s fourth sprint win of the season would have seen him take the unofficial sprint championship.
At the start, Leclerc lost the lead to Verstappen arguably on the limit of acceptability, and that compromised the Ferrari’s entry to Turn One and allowed Hamilton to pass as they exited the corner down the hill towards Turn Two and through the Maggots and Becketts-style section.
There was plenty of mystery going into the Sprint after two hugely entertaining qualifying sessions in which Verstappen was pushed, and even beaten on Friday. Verstappen had only taken pole by just over a tenth ahead of Leclerc, Hamilton and Norris.
It remained to be seen whether that tightness would translate to race – or at least shortened-race – pace, and the early signs were promising. But Verstappen fended off Leclerc, however, the Ferrari driver opened the door allowing Hamilton to lose further ground while fending off Lando Norris.
Hamilton will be encouraged by the results and the fact the upgraded Mercedes looked in the early stages to stay with Verstappen. Who then upped his pace on the third lap, extending his lead by nearly two seconds, a sign that the race was lost for the seven-time champion.
Leclerc can also be encouraged by the performance of the Ferrari, however both will need to be cautious despite Verstappen being out of position for the Grand Prix. Norris was fourth finishing four seconds ahead of Sergio Perez, once again the Englishman showing the team’s strong race pace, as he challenged Leclerc for fourth in the closing stages. Carlos Sainz’s gamble of using the soft saw him drop down the order in the closing stages, the Spaniard finishing four tenths behind Perez.
While Verstappen held the lead, the sparring resulted in a reshuffle behind him, as both Leclerc and Norris fell backwards after failing with their attempted overtakes. Mercedes this weekend the team has brought a significantly modified floor for as part of their final major upgrade package of the season, initially appearing to have pace to rival the class-leading Red Bull as he remained within a second during the opening six laps.
However beating Verstappen in a straightforward race looks unlikely, but should anything happen to the three-time champion Hamilton looks the favourite to win for the sixth time at the Circuit of the Americas.
That not going to help Perez in his fight for second with Hamilton in the drivers, something which is reported to be a deal breaker over whether he stays at Red Bull in the long term. The team has never managed a one two finish in the drivers championship.
While it gave him the early advantage, Sainz was soon under pressure from the McLarens that suggested this is going to be a two-stop Grand Prix. That will harm Ferrari who has struggled with tyre wear this season.
On lap ten, Norris finally got by Sainz at Turn Twelve at the end of the track’s long back straight and faced a six-and-a-half second gap to Leclerc, which he ate up over the rest of the race – finishing just eight tenths behind the GP polesitter, who Norris will start alongside on Sunday.
Pierre Gasly was seventh ahead of George Russell, the Mercedes driver was given. A five-second penalty for gaining a lasting advantage when he passed Oscar Piastri for sixth on lap three. Russell believed he had been pushed off but the stewards disagreed saying he gained an advantage, the five-second penalty dropping him to eighth.
Russell’s good friend Alex Albon tried to make it ninth for the Mercedes, he pilled on the pressure but his late charge saw him eight seconds behind. That meant the Williams driver was three-tenths off once the penalty was applied, Russell hanging onto eighth. While Piastri fell to tenth following the collision.
Russell felt he was pushed off, but the stewards decided his move was illegal, with Albon putting the Mercedes under huge pressure for the final point with a late charge of personal best laps in ninth, which put him just three tenths behind Russell once the Briton’s penalty had been applied.
Albon was also investigated for a battle with Piastri, but no further action was taken over an alleged breach of track limits. But the McLaren driver was given a warning to stick within track limits before getting a penalty.
Esteban Ocon was eleventh, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso split the two Alpha Tauri’s. The Aston Martin finished four and a half tenths behind Ricciardo and ahead of Yuki Tsunoda by six and a half tenths. Nico Hulkenberg put his Haas fifteenth ahead of the two Alfa Romeo’s, with Valtteri Bottas three and a half seconds ahead of teammate Guanyu Zhou.
Hulkenberg’s teammate Kevin Magnussen was eighteen three-tenths ahead of Logan Sargeant. Lance Stroll was the only retirement with another brake problem in the closing stages of the race.